WESTPORT – The Westport Country Playhouse has been a community staple for over 90 years, and it all started with husband and wife duo, Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall.

Now the couple will be commemorated with a literary landmark – although the exact location is yet to be determined as there has been a question about the most logical spot in town.

Literary landmarks are presented at historic literary sites involving a deceased literary figure or author across the country as part of the American Library Association. Anyone can request a landmark, as long as they compile the necessary information and discuss it with a local organization, such as a library.

Langner ultimately focused on the writing side of the production, which is why he qualifies for one. Some of his best known works include the co-written play “The Pursuit of Happiness” and the memoir “Magic Curtain”.

“He is truly the father of modern Broadway when you consider that he built the Guild Theater on Broadway…which is now the August Wilson Theatre,” said Joel Vig, one of the project’s committee members. . about Langner.

In 1919 Langner co-founded the Theater Guild in New York, overseeing over 200 productions.

Story

The Playhouse was once an old barn in an apple orchard, which Langner and Marshall repurposed after buying it for $14,000. Originally the venue was called the Woodland Theater but was renamed on opening day, June 29, 1931.

As founders, Langner and Marshall – who resided in Weston – ran the performance hall as a Broadway tryout and summer theater. This allowed some big names from Broadway to make it to Westport.

Under the direction of Langner and Marshall, the Playhouse’s first show in 1931 was “The Streets of New York”, which eventually performed on Broadway.

Langner and Marshall eventually handed over the theater to James B. McKenzie in 1959, and now it’s under new management.

Vig, who has helped sanction other literary landmarks, originally had the idea to apply for the landmark designation. He has been involved in acting for a long time and has even worked with Langner’s son, Philip.

He said that while he was at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, he did some research and found there was no literary landmark in Westport.

“I always refer to Lawrence and Armina as ‘the giants of American theatre,'” Vig said, “because I think American theater owes more to Lawrence and Armina in the 20th century than to two other people in the world. .”

“I had never met Lawrence but I had met Armina towards the end of her life,” he said. “Each of them has had a remarkable life filled with incredible accomplishments.”

Vig then contacted Ann Sheffer, a longtime Westport resident who has been involved with the Playhouse and Westport Library for many years, and they began working with Bill Harmer, the Westport Library’s Head Librarian. The library eventually submitted the request.

Sheffer said she wanted to be part of the Literary Landmark project because she loved the Playhouse, which she has been involved with since she was 13.

“My family, beginning with my grandparents who came to Westport in 1930 and my parents who moved here in 1950, knew the Langners well and saw many productions at the Playhouse, as well as the Theater Guild in New York,” Sheffer said.

“As someone who loves Westport history,” Sheffer said, “I was thrilled when Joel Vig asked me to help him create a literary landmark for Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall.”

Location

The original plan was to hang the plaque at the Westport Country Playhouse as part of its 90th anniversary. However, now over a year into the process, there will most likely be a new location.

According to Vig, issues arose between the committee and current Playhouse members over what information would be on the plaque, and they were unable to agree on a statement. Committee members wanted the plaque to focus more on Langner’s accomplishments, rather than the performance hall itself.

Due to the disagreement over the contents of the plaque, Sheffer proposed that it be placed in a different location.

Sheffer, who paid for the plaque, said she was talking with first selector Jennifer Tooker and the Westport Library to find a new location to house it. Potential locations include a sign near the Playhouse on Post Road East, Winslow Park and the Langner family home in Weston.

“We’re just looking for a place where people will see it and be able to celebrate Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall,” Sheffer said.

Michael Barker, general manager of the Westport Country Playhouse, said it was fitting that Langner’s contributions to theater and literature be commemorated with a literary monument.

“The founding of the Westport Country Playhouse is nearly unique in the history of surviving American regional theaters,” he said. “While most regional theaters were started by local members of the community, Langner’s vision of an art oasis outside the commercial pressures of New York was born of a different, noble impulse.”

Baker also said the Playhouse’s mission is influenced by Langner’s work to date.

Eve Langner, granddaughter of Lawrence Langner and Marshall, appreciated the work done to secure the landmark.

“It makes me proud to know that their accomplishments and their life’s work are honored,” she said. “When I stop to think about what they’ve accomplished in their lifetime, I find all the things they’ve been through, what they’ve written, and all the people they’ve worked with remarkable. is extraordinary.

Eve Langner also spoke about potential new locations.

“I think ultimately the Landmark is a celebration and, knowing my grandparents’ love for Westport, I would like it to be placed in a place where residents can see it for generations to come. come,” she said.

Vig said Marshall may soon be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, which will be announced Sept. 24.

“Looking back,” Eve Langner said, “I think my grandparents were visionaries in the theater world. It was their passion. They dedicated their lives to this passion and the belief that theater was accessible to everyone, whether on Broadway, on summer theater stages, on radio and television.

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